Regarding children and divorce, there can be confusion on the types of child custody and related issues. Legal custody, physical custody, parenting time, and child support are each separate issues that must be resolved before the Judgment of Divorce is entered.
First, legal custody means a parent has the right to make important decisions about their children, such as where they go to school, their religion, and major medical decisions. There are two ways this is handled in Michigan. The first way is that the court can award sole legal custody to one parent. This becomes the exception more than the rule. The second way is that the court can award joint legal custody to both parents. This is when both parents must work together and agree on each decision. If the parents cannot agree, then either one can petition the court for a decision.
Physical custody is who the child lives with after the divorce is finalized. If the parties can agree, then the physical custody can consider both parents’ work schedules, distances to school, ability to transport back and forth to school for each parent, extracurricular activities of the children, and any unique of the children or parents. The schedule should promote what is best for the child and not necessarily the most convenient or desired outcome for either parent.
Parenting time is the time the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have the child living with them most of the time) spends with the child. For parents with joint physical custody, this would be the child’s time in their house. Each county has a version of standard parenting time. However, the parties can craft a parenting time schedule that is best for children and considers work schedules, distance to school, ability to transport the child to school, need for childcare, and extracurricular activities. For some parents, parenting time may be supervised for some time and would be dependent on the circumstances of those parents and children. Parenting time cannot be denied if child support is not paid.
Child support is money a parent pays to help meet their child’s needs when the parent is not living with the child. The court orders the support based on the Michigan Child Support Formula. Support may include payment of the expenses of medical, dental, and other health care, childcare expenses, and school expenses. If either party receives state assistance, the parties cannot deviate from the child support formula. Child support cannot be denied if parenting time is not occurring.
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